This article was updated at 8:10 p.m. Thursday.
Local officials have earmarked nearly $30 million for residents who have lost their job or hours and need help with cost of living expenses during the coronavirus pandemic.
While the amount dwarfs what other Texas cities are revoting to housing assistance, the officials also say $30 million is not enough as the number of San Antonians seeking government assistance paying rent, their mortgage, and utilities has skyrocketed the past month. Others, including District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry, believe the city is blindly throwing in too much money without data to justify the allocations at this time. Here’s how it breaks down:
City Council members on Thursday voted 10-1 to approve $25 million for its COVID-19 housing assistance program, which is fueled by a combination of federal and local dollars—Perry being the lone dissenter. Entering the meeting, city officials had identified $15.8 million in predominately federal dollars for the program for council to consider. But District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño motioned to add another $9.2 million from the city’s own budget that can offer aid to more people in need because it has looser restrictions than the federal money.
Based on the staff’s original recommendation of $15.8 million, officials expected to help between 7,791 and 12,985 families.
Also, earlier this week, Bexar County commissioners approved their own $4 million housing assistance program for residents who live outside San Antonio’s borders, but within the county.
» To apply for housing assistance from the city, click here or call 210-207-5910.
» More info on the risk mitigation program
» Browse other housing resources
SAN ANTONIANS IN NEED
Here are the total number of inquiries the city of San Antonio has received for cost of living assistance, also known as the risk mitigation program:
» Week of March 2—48
» March 9—65
» March 16—137
» March 21—2,064
» March 28—4,164
» April 4—5,319
» April 10 – 5,370
Editor’s note: These figures are total inquiries into the city, not applications, and include duplicate calls. Also, for this program, the city defined a week as Saturday through Friday.
Source: City of San Antonio
In recent weeks, Treviño has made a handful of proposals that would help San Antonio renters weather the coronavirus crisis.
Last week, during the council meeting, Treviño spearheaded the effort to find the additional $9.2 million. He’s also proposed the idea of giving residents 60 extra days, or, until early July—when Texas’ eviction moratorium ends—to pay their rent. Finally, Treviño, as chair of the Bexar Appraisal District’s board of directors, supports the idea of freezing property values for this year meaning property owners would pay what they paid last year.
In recent weeks, Treviño has alluded to the fact that federal dollars for housing assistance only apply to U.S. citizens, leaving undocumented workers unserved and therefore the need to boost local dollars where officials can set their own requirement standard.
Community organizing group COPS Metro Alliance applauded the additional dollars after members had lobbied the council the past week.
Lupita Valdez, who’s a parishioner at Sacred Heart Catholic Church and a COPS Metro leader, attended the meetings with council members. She said some of the parishioners at Sacred Heart have approached COPS Metro looking for help paying the bills. Some of them are single mothers, and undocumented residents who lost their job due to the coronavirus shutdown.
“They’re worried about how they’re going to pay their rent for the next three months, and also how they’re going to pay their utilities,” Valdez said.
COPS Metro is one of the grassroots organizations city officials are partnering with to help spread the word about the housing assistant program. The city also plans to buy ads on Spanish-language radio to help promulgate the program.
During the discussion, Perry largely applauded the program, but questioned whether the additional $9.2 million should be allocated without any data to justify the amount.
“I understand there’s a lot of need from this city, but this council has continually said this is a data driven council,” Perry said.
“To me, we are putting the cart before the horse,” Perry said later.
The additional $9.2 million was not recommended by the city staff for largely Perry’s same reasoning. Instead, the staff found the dollars—a combo of money from the San Antonio Housing Trust and its entities, the city’s tax increment reinvestment zones, and the general fund—because Treviño and other council members had requested it.
“We still do not know the need and felt that the $15.8 million was a great start,” Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said in a text message. “We were planning to return to City Council in 30 days with a report after we have more data. If additional funding was necessary we would make an informed recommendation at that time.”
City Manager Erik Walsh, the top San Antonio official and Houston’s boss, defended the rationale behind Treviño added request to council members. “I think it’s safe to say there is a need right now,” Walsh said.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg agreed.
“I don’t think ($25 million) going to be enough,” Nirenberg said during the meeting. “The problem with this crisis is we don’t know where the ground is yet.”
How exactly the $25 million program is bundled together was unclear during the meeting because the extra $9.2 million was not part of Houston’s presentation. Here’s what we know:
» $7.7 million from the CARES Act, the economic stimulus package Congress passed last month.
» $5.2 million from the HUD Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.
» $5 million from the San Antonio Housing Trust and its entities, which must be approved by those boards.
» $3.7 million from the city tax increment reinvestment zone program, which was originally created to use revenue gained from the increment in property taxes to fund public upgrades within each boundary; but now the program is being used for affordable housing, a direction Perry disagrees with.
» $2.5 million from the city’s parking enterprise fund, which is used for affordable housing efforts.
Under the program, San Antonians receive help paying rent, their mortgage, groceries, gas, medicine and utilities.
But they must prove they’ve lost their job or had hours cut, or incurred medical expenses that prevented them from settling their rent debt. Other unexpected costs, which would impact their ability to pay rent, include funeral expenses, car repair or divorce.
The area median income (AMI) for a family of four in the greater San Antonio area (Bandera, Bexar, Comal, Guadalupe and Wilson counties) is $71,000, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Here’s how it breaks down for lower-income households:
» 80% – $56,800
» 70% – $49,700
» 60% – $42,600
» 50% – $35,500
» 40% – $28,400
» 30% – $21,300
Editor’s note: For a complete AMI breakdown that shows other household sizes, scroll to the bottom of this article.
The city pays the landlord directly—up to $3,500 for rent, or $1,500 for utilities, for people making less than 80% AMI. For homeowners in the same wage range, the program pays up to $3,500 in mortgage assistance and $1,500 for utilities. For households who make between 81% and 100% AMI, the payouts are less. Also, the city considers the income or AMI the household is making after they lost their job.
Under the expanded program approved by council on Thursday, residents can also receive up to $300 cash assistance for groceries and gas.
During the meeting, Houston said $2.28 million has been distributed and 1,400 applications have been completed since March 16. She said an average of $1,393 has been distributed per household per month. Another $335,800 has been doled out to people for help buying groceries, gas and medicine for an average of $240 per household.
A total of 471 landlords are registered with the city.
So far, the majority of the 1,400 applications have been completed by females—69% to 31% for males. The largest group has been people ages 26-35, or 37% of the total age ranges, which was a red flag to District 4 Councilwoman Dr. Adriana Rocha Garcia who was concerned the program’s marketing isn’t reaching older residents who may not have the internet.
The program is scheduled to end July 31.
In a related initiative, the council also agreed to partner with the Family Independence Initiative (FII), a national organization that doles out cash gifts of $500 to help struggling families reach a higher levels of prosperity. For that effort, the city is chipping in $1.9 million with FII finding another $1.1 million from local and national funders.
Area median income
Here are the latest area median income (AMI) levels for the greater San Antonio area (Bandera, Bexar, Comal, Guadalupe and Wilson counties), according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Want to know more about how AMI works? Click here.
[table id=4 /]
» Groceries, gas among expenses San Antonio will cover during COVID-19 crisis
» As eviction lawsuits dwindle, tenants may get 60 extra days to resolve overdue rent during coronavirus crisis
» Number of people seeking housing assistance in San Antonio soared 6,700% last two weeks
» Landlords asked to forgive 25% rent for tenants impacted by coronavirus
» For background on the risk mitigation fund, read: Is San Antonio doing enough to address displacement?
» Evictions, property tax foreclosures in Bexar County suspended due to COVID-19 concerns
» Map: Where to pick up free breakfast and lunch while schools are closed for coronavirus
» How San Antonio’s taquerias are hurting during coronavirus outbreak
» Retailers close in compliance with coronavirus order, leaving downtown nearly lifeless
» Looking back: The week downtown San Antonio became a ghost town
Disclaimer: Heron Editor Ben Olivo was recently hired as a part-time consult for H.E. Butt Foundation regarding FII’s marketing plan in San Antonio.